How the Pittsburgh Penguins might deal with the loss of Evgeni Malkin

To some extent, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been playing with the “real” Evgeni Malkin for about a season and a half. After winning the Art Ross Trophy with his league-leading 113 point season in 2008-09, Malkin’s been putting up relatively unimpressive numbers (77 points last season, 37 points in 43 games in 10-11).

In other words, it’s important to note that his health/game has been sliding for a while now. While Sidney Crosby’s concussions interrupted an astounding season abruptly, Geno’s injury seemed like the final straw rather than a sudden shocker.

That being said, it’s very possible that the 24-year-old Russian center would have found his rhythm over the next few months. The Penguins have played decent hockey with 80-percent Malkin, but what can they do without any Malkin whatsoever? Let’s study their options, some of which might bleed into each other.

Keep their feet on the accelerator

When we discussed Malkin’s struggles in January, one interesting theory surfaced: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s hard-charging, brawny style might not be a great fit for the Russian’s game. While Crosby’s willingness to go to “dirty goal” scoring areas fits well with this aggressive system, Malkin’s finesse game contrasts with that straight-forward mentality.

In the grand scheme of things, he will obviously be missed, but the Penguins can use the $8.7 million in cap space cleared by Malkin’s injury to lure some “rental” players to help fill some of the void (or at least bring that vision to fruition).

A healthy Crosby and Jordan Staal would present a solid one-two punch, so the Penguins don’t need to restrict their search to centers. Let’s glance at some pending free agents who might be worth a “rental.”

Sorting out potential trade targets of varying quality

(Click here if you want to do your own “scouting.”)

  • The Brad Richards dream: The Penguins would be one of the most interesting suitors in the very unlikely scenario of a Richards trade. The sublime passer’s cap hit is about $900K less than Malkin’s, so the trade could send monetary relief (plus draft picks and prospects) to Dallas for Richards. It’s still a long shot, though.
  • Square pegs in round holes: There are many fans in Pittsburgh who still hold a soft spot for enigmatic Russian Alex Kovalev, but he only really makes sense as a winger alongside Malkin. Jason Arnott is a slightly more realistic option, but he isn’t exactly a Swiss Army Knife of versatility either.
  • Right-handed shots would be a bonus: When the Penguins let Bill Guerin retire, they gave up their best right handed shot (at least among forwards). Two semi-interesting right handed snipers might become available: Michael Ryder and Milan Hejduk. Cap reasons would dictate Ryder’s move while Hejduk might become an option if the Avs slip out of playoff contention. Steve Sullivan, Teemu Selanne and Justin Williams would be even better options, but they are far less likely to be traded.
  • Two other interesting names: Speedy Sergei Samsonov and dirt-cheap playmaker Alex Tanguay could be interesting choices if the Penguins go for a buffet setup rather than one big splurge. Speaking of which:

Multiple moves?

Aside from that unlikely Richards scenario, the Penguins might try to mix and match players with some flaws rather than going for one big move. If any team can afford to give a player the Wade Redden treatment (stashing an expensive player in the minors if things don’t work out), it’s the deep-pocketed Penguins.

***

The Penguins have at least some hope without Malkin, even if there will be plenty of times in which his world-class skills will be missed. Their system might be more seamless in his absence, with role players taking on bigger responsibilities. Most of all, though, the $8.7 million in cap space should come in handy. GM Ray Shero’s use of that space could be one of the most captivating storylines of this year’s trade deadline.

WATCH LIVE: Game 1 for Penguins – Capitals, Rangers – Senators

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It’s really happening.

For all the griping about having the Penguins and Capitals meet in the second round (again), it’s easy to forget the bright side: upsets didn’t dislodge this juicy matchup from taking place.

The West’s duo of Game 1 matchups kicked into gear last night, and now the East provides that battle between Sidney Crosby‘s squad and Alex Ovechkin‘s loaded team. Don’t sleep on Rangers – Senators, either, though; there should be plenty of intrigue in seeing superhuman Swedes Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson try to one-up each other.

Here’s what you need to know to follow the action:

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: CNBC (Stream online here)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Sutter won’t retire from coaching, willing to join a rebuild

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Given he turns 59 this summer, has won a pair of Stanley Cups and coached over 1,000 NHL games, Darryl Sutter probably could’ve called it a career after getting fired by the Kings earlier this month, and done so comfortably.

But that’s not happening.

In speaking with TSN’s Gary Lawless, Sutter said he has no plans to retire from coaching. What’s more — and, perhaps more interesting — is that Sutter said he wouldn’t limit his next job solely to a contending team.

Currently, there are just two vacant coaching gigs in Buffalo and Florida. We wrote about the Panthers’ search earlier today (more on that here). The situation in Buffalo is more complex, as the Sabres need to hire a new general manager and coach. Logic suggests the GM will be hired first, then spearhead the new bench boss hire.

In that regard, Buffalo is pretty intriguing.

Though the Kings have yet to be contacted for an interview request, ex-GM Dean Lombardi has been tied to the Sabres gig. And Lombardi, of course, is forever tied to Sutter — he was the one that hired Sutter after a five-year coaching exodus to join the Kings, and the pair went on to achieve great success together.

That five-year coaching exodus does need to be mentioned, though.

History suggests that Sutter isn’t joking when he says he’ll be picky about the situation and won’t rush to find the right fit. After being dismissed in Calgary in 2006, he returned to work on the family farm in Viking, Alberta and seemed fairly content doing so.

That said, hockey always seems to draw him back.

“The game has given us everything,” Sutter told Lawless. “We still have lots to give.”

Coyotes fire assistant coach Newell Brown

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The Arizona Coyotes have parted ways with some personnel.

Assistant coach Newell Brown has been fired, along with Doug Soetaert, who was the general manager of their AHL affiliate in Tuscon.

Pro scouts David MacLean and Jim Roque won’t be back either. Their contracts will not be renewed.

“I’d like to thank Newell, Doug, David and Jim for their contributions to the club,” said GM John Chayka. “They are all good people but we believe these changes are necessary in order to improve our organization. We wish them the best in the future.”

A longtime NHL assistant coach, Brown is perhaps the most prominent of the four men. He joined the Coyotes in the summer of 2013 and received high praise for his work with their power play.

But Arizona’s power play slipped to 26th this past season, converting at a rate of just 16.2 percent.

As for Soetaert, he was only named GM of the Roadrunners last summer. The former NHL goalie had previously been a scout.

Plenty of seats available for tonight’s game in Ottawa

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The Ottawa Senators say they’re still expecting a full house, but Ticketmaster’s website shows plenty of available seats for tonight’s second-round opener with the New York Rangers.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Many of the available tickets for Thursday’s game were in the corners of the upper bowl, seats that carry a $96 price tag.

The Senators sold out all three games in the opening round of the playoffs against Boston. Game 1 drew a crowd of 18,702, while 18,629 showed up for Game 2 and 19,209 were in the seats for Game 5.

Attendance has been an issue in Ottawa — or, more specifically, suburban Kanata — all season, to the point owner Eugene Melnyk expressed great frustration with the lack of sellouts at Canadian Tire Centre.

Poor attendance also led to friction behind the scenes. At least, it sure sounded that way in the lawsuit that was filed against the team by its former chief marketing officer.

Poor attendance is why the Sens are trying to get a new downtown arena built. They believe that a more central location is the key to bigger crowds.

But regardless of the arena’s location, it won’t be a good look if there are empty seats tonight. This is the playoffs, and the Senators are one of eight remaining teams in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The building should be full.

Related: Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run